In this fourth episode of a special seven-part series, we take you on a spiritual journey through the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome to learn more about the history, art, architecture, and spiritual wealth of each of these storied places of worship, continuing with the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
By Sr. Gini George, SSpS
We continue our pilgrimage to the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, defined also as the “mother of all the churches in the world”.
The church is the oldest and highest ranking of the four major papal basilicas holding the unique title of “archbasilica”.
Commissioned by the Emperor Constantine and consecrated by Pope Sylvester I in AD 324, it was the first Christian Basilica built in Rome.
It is still Rome’s official cathedral and the Pope’s cathedra as the Bishop of Rome.
The basilica gets its name from the Lateran Hill on which it is built.
Initially dedicated to Christ the Saviour, the basilica was twice re-dedicated, first in the 10th century to St. John the Baptist, and again in the 12th century to St John the Evangelist.
This basilica has played an important role throughout history; it was here that all popes were enthroned up until 1870.
The Lateran Palace served as the residence of popes for about a millennium until their residence ultimately moved to the Vatican.
The Church that we see in front of us today is the fourth Church built between 1660 and 1730.
The façade as it appears today was completed in 1735.
The statues, the painting, and the architecture seem to express the idea that the Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and the prophets.
According to tradition, the precious reliquary above the altar of the Sacrament contains a fragment of the table at which Jesus and the Apostles had the last supper.
In the center of the transept of the basilica is the Gothic canopy and, up above, behind the metal grille, is a set of reliquaries said to be containing the relics of the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Under the canopy is the Papal altar, at which the Pope alone was allowed to celebrate Mass.
Also located within the Papal Altar is a wooden table that St. Peter and many of the earliest popes are said to have celebrated the Eucharist upon.
Every year, on 9 November we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica.
The intention behind the annual feast day is to encourage Catholics to keep strong ties to our past and the universal Catholic Church.
Source: Vatican News